Re-Imagine Prayer

As we start a new school year together and consider the mission and vision of our University, there is an acute awareness for the need to work toward a more just and humane world. Multiple systems of injustice have in an organized and systematic way worked to insure systems of inequality where the haves get more and the have nots get less. Marginalization and disenfranchisement seem to be celebrated while justice and equity seem to be demonized. Power, greed, control, and false narratives have taken center stage in national and international politics to the degree that there is very little honor left in the public square. In the face of all of this, the field of religion has been rocked by scandal and the public perception of those who work in religious life has been marred. IMG_3521

Humanity is made up of innumerable individuals, no two alike, and yet society is a composite whole moving gradually toward collective ideas and characteristics (Holmes, This Thing Called You 1997). How do we respond to the state of emergency our world finds itself in? Perhaps the answer lies in a return to prayer. Not the type of prayer that is filled mindless or empty platitudes, rather payer that is centered in deep faith that calls humanity to its highest ideas and character.

Despite what may appear, we are not, by choice or ideology, a culture set against solitude, interiority, and prayer. Nor are we more malicious than past generations. We differ from the past more by busyness than badness (Rolheiser 2013). All of our religious traditions have in common a commitment to prayer. The prayer I believe we need is a movement of thought, within the mind of the one praying, along a definite line of meditation; that is, for a specific purpose (Holmes 1997). This prayer is effective because a person’s thoughts become the law of her or his life. As the life of the individual goes, so goes the life of the community, region, nation, and ultimately the world. Prayer is our ability to raise our consciousness above the limitations of the physical plane in connection with any matter and as we see and speak things above what our senses behold we begin to respond to the physical in different ways (Fox 1966). It makes little difference the circumstance or its cause; prayer changes the way one responds to both circumstance and cause, because prayer changes the one praying!

IMG_3517Prayer is a form of thought, and negative thoughts (prayers) can create negative experiences! Professor William R. Parker of Redlands University investigated prayer therapy and discovered that unless prayer is positive it may be dangerous. The thoughts or desires we hold eventually conquer and control our lives (Holmes, A New Design for Living 2010). We can literally teach ourselves and the world around us to function in unhealthy ways if our hearts and minds are tuned to the frequency of negativity. Perhaps our news cycles have been informing our prayers and we can no longer see the ways in which we are complicit in cultural norms that are destructive to human flourishing.

Real prayer has power, not through repetition, rather through genuine belief and acceptance. It is the law of life that as we think and speak we also act.  It is a greater law of life that as we think and speak towards others they respond in kind towards us. This does not mean that every individual will return our kindness, but society becomes the best version of itself when the individual is the best version of themselves. This best self is centered in affirmative prayer that calls us to transcend the bruises of everyday life and seeks to see that which reflects the goodness of The Divine. Prayer gives us the opportunity to experience consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption but of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives (Hartin 2010).

What if our religious organizations, churches, temples, or houses of worship began to re-imagine prayer? What if we became the places where we make prayer for ourselves, communities, regions and nations? What would the world look like if people of faith really began to pray?

Feel free to comment below.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Fox, Emmet. 1966. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: HarperOne.

Hartin, Patrick J. 2010. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.

Holmes, Ernest. 2010. A New Design for Living. Edited by Willis H. Kinnear. New York: Penguin Group.

—. 1997. The Science of Mind. New York: G.P. Putnums Sons.

—. 1997. This Thing Called You. New York: Penguin Group.

Rolheiser, Ronald. 2013. Prayer: Our Deepest Longing. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media.

 

 

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